What the World Was Searching for in 2007?

world-map.jpgGoogle’s Zeitgeist 2007 provides a glimpse into what the world was searching for in 2007, at least those using Google, which these days means pretty much everyone. The results provide an important glimpse into evolving world culture and language.

Language and popculture are essential subjects for any e-discovery professional called upon to search for evidence. That’s because an effective searcher must know the linguistic patterns, slang, and popular references used by many different kinds of people. All keyword searches, and even concept searches, depend on that.  If you do not know the language and overall cultural mind-set of the custodians whose records you search, you may not run the right search. Even when you do, you may still fail to recognize a relevant “hit” during your review. You may read an email and misunderstand entirely what was said. You may not grasp that “bad” sometimes means “good,” or that badoo is one of the world’s fastest growing online communities. You may see a smoking gun and not even know it.

That is why, in my opinion, an effective searcher must be familiar with popular culture, especially in searches of email and instant messages. That is also grounds for caution in outsourcing large volume reviews. They may speak King’s English, but do they understand the ever-changing nomenclature of American culture?

As most everyone knows, Google saves every search ever made, but supposedly does not track who made what search. This kind of information is power, and not only allows for effective targeted marketing, but also for interesting sociological studies. Every year, Google provides us with their year end analysis of the searches made in the past year. Here is Google’s explanation of its yearly Zeitgeist:

To get a glimpse of what’s been on our collective consciousness, we mined billions of search queries to discover what sorts of things rose to the top. We encourage you to check out our findings to see if you, too, reflect the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times.

It is well worth your time to study these results yourself; but in the meantime, this blog will provide a few lists that I found interesting. I did a similar blog last year on the top Google searches in 2006 that you might also want to check out for comparison. Note that these lists only reveal what search terms are the “fastest gainers,” which appears to be a kind of extrapolation to show trends where more recent results are more heavily weighted, and very common terms are ignored altogether. In Google’s words:

Rather than showing the most popular searches overall, which would always be generic terms like “weather,” Hot Trends highlights searches that have sudden surges in popularity. Our algorithm analyzes millions of web searches performed on Google and displays those searches that deviate the most from their historic traffic pattern. The algorithm also filters out spam and removes inappropriate material.

With that explanation, here is Google’s report of the “fastest rising” search terms overall in 2007 in the United States. As a courtesy to those who, like me, struggle to stay current with predominantly youth-culture trends, I also provide a brief explanation for each.

1. iPhone: iPhone, the Apple mobile phone with music and video player and web browsing features tops the Google top searches 2007 list.
2. Webkinz: Webkinz is a stuffed animal that customers can register and play with online.
3. TMZ: A Telepictures and America Online joint venture that provides focuses on the latest celebrity scandals.
4. Transformer toys: Transformers are flexible toys that shift shape, and became popular, once again, from the 2007 hit movie Transformers.
5. YouTube: online video-sharing site.
6. Club Penguin: Networking site for children.
7. MySpace: Social networking site.
8. Heroes: Heroes is an American science fiction serial drama television series created by Tim Kring on NBC.
9. Facebook: Social/business networking site.
10. Anna Nicole Smith: Anna Nicole Smith was an American sex symbol, model, actress, and celebrity.

The fastest rising search terms worldwide differed slightly from the U.S. list above. For instance, the entire world was not as obsessed with Anna Nicole as we were, and she did not make the top ten. Instead, good old badoo did. Here is the top ten global list:

1. iPhone.
2. Badoo: Although just started in 2006, this online community already has over 12 million members.
3. Facebook.
4. Dailymotion: Another video-sharing site with a more global focus.
5. Webkinz.
6. Youtube.
7. eBuddy: Instant messaging for web and phone.
8. Second Life: Virtual reality community where people interact online with avatars. Judge Posner appearing on Second Life in Fall 2007 The interactions can be random social or well planned, including virtual lectures. For instance, prominent Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner (shown right) gave a lecture on December 7, 2007, where he discussed his latest book, Not a Suicide Pact, his defense of the Patriot Act, copyright, and other topics. He also answered questions from fellow avatars, many of whom were lawyers, some appearing as animals. Click here for a full transcript. Unfortunately, his event ended with a virtual terrorist bombing. No avatars were injured, and Judge Posner escaped safely into the real world. Second Life has its own money and market place with $millions in real-world transactions taking place every month. You can buy virtual real estate from the owner of Second Life, Linden Research. You can then create your own worlds and sell things, both real and virtual, including cars and computers. Many businesses large and small are already well established in Second Life, including IBM, where over 3,000 of its employees have avatar identities. There are even a few law firms there, but the word is, virtually no billable hours originate there.
9. Hi5: Online networking site with an international orientation.
10. Club Penguin.

On a global level, the most popular searches in 2007 on “Google News,” include, in my opinion at least, only one bona fide “news” item, and no, I don’t mean Paris Hilton:

1. American Idol
2. Youtube
3. Britney Spears
4. 2007 Cricket World Cup
5. Chris Benoit
6. iPhone
7. Anna Nicole Smith
8. Paris Hilton
9. Iran
10. Vanessa Hudgens

Google even ranks the top ten searched “law suits” which are:

1. Borat lawsuit
2. Vonage lawsuit
3, iPhone lawsuit
4. Facebook lawsuit
5. Jamie Gold lawsuit
6. Pants lawsuit
7. McDonalds lawsuit
8. Paxil lawsuit
9. RIAA lawsuit
10. Dell lawsuit

To be honest, although I know and like Borat, I had no idea he was involved in a lawsuit; in fact, I had never heard of most of these alleged law suits. As it turns out, a number of people who were duped into appearing in the movie Borat reacted by filing suit, including the villagers in Romania who were tricked into playing the Kazakhatans and sued for $30 million. Apparently people find these kind of lawsuits very amusing, confirming the old saying that “litigation” is a popular American observer sport. See: Kregos v. Associated Press, 795 F.Supp. 1325 (SD NY 1992) (“In bygone days, baseball reigned as America’s favorite pastime. Sadly, this honor seems to now belong to lawsuits. We see it on every front, on the front pages of newspapers, over cable television’s airwaves, and in the public discourse.”).

Another interesting thing you can do using Google Trends Lab is determine the locations in the world or U.S. where searches you specify have most often been performed. For instance, I searched the terms “electronic discovery” and Google Trends tells me the top ten U.S. Cities in which this search was performed and provides a graphic representation on volume as follows:

1. Washington, DC, USA
2. Houston, TX, USA
3. New York, NY, USA
4. San Francisco, CA, USA
5. Boston, MA, USA
6. Minneapolis, MN, USA
7. Chicago, IL, USA
8. Philadelphia, PA, USA
9. Seattle, WA, USA
10. Atlanta, GA, USA

Now you know why there are so many e-discovery vendor offices in Washington D.C. By the way, if you change the searched term to “e-discovery” you get a slightly different result where Toronto is 8th and Los Angeles is 9th. I reported on this same search in 2006 with essentially the same results, but the overall volume of these searches is way up.

In this same blog of a year ago, I reported the curious anomaly that “Yahoo” had just replaced “Sex” as the most popular search term on Google. I also reported the top countries in the world who searched “sex” on Google. I ran this same search again today, and the results have changed significantly. For instance, last year Pakistan was number one; now it does not even make the top ten.

1. Egypt
2. Viet Nam
3. India
4. Turkey
5. Poland
6. Denmark
7. Belgium
8. Netherlands
9. Switzerland
10. Australia

I’ll let readers decide for themselves what message, if any, the above list provides on world culture, and what trend the change in rankings from 2006 might reveal.

Happy New Year!

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